Macroinvertebrate Responses to Algal and Bacterial Manipulations in Streams

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Abstract

Our study was designed to assess the relative importance of algae and bacteria as sources of energy for stream macroinvertebrates. In one experiment, we manipulated algae by artificially shading six sections in each of two streams, one stream with an open canopy (clear-cut drainage basin) and the other with a closed canopy (forested drainage basin); both streams were in Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire, USA. Chlorophyll a concentrations were reduced from 0.2 to 0.05 μg/cm2 in artificially shaded sections of both streams. However, macroinvertebrates showed no response to these algal manipulations in either the clear-cut or forested stream. Nutrient concentrations (N and P) were low and limiting to primary production in both the clear-cut and forested streams. Additionally, both streams had relatively low macroinvertebrate densities suggesting bottom-up controls were important in macroinvertebrate abundance. However, the forested stream did have higher macroinvertebrate densities presumably because of higher inputs of coarse particulate organic matter from the riparian vegetation. In a second experiment, in Augusta Creek, Michigan, we manipulated both algae and bacteria. To reduce algae, we artificially shaded experimental stream channels so that chlorophyll a was reduced from natural levels of 3.0-5.6 to 0.4-0.7 μg/cm2. Half of the shaded channels had dissolved organic carbon (DOC - sucrose) dripped into them to raise DOC levels by 2-3 mg/l and thus stimulate bacterial abundance. Open channels, with higher algal abundance, had higher densities of Ephemerella, but only in November when nymphs were larger. Channels with increased DOC had higher bacterial abundances, higher densities of Chironomidae and lower densities of Heptageniidae. Several other macroinvertebrate taxa that were at relatively low abundance in our samples showed no significant response to these manipulations. Our results suggest that early instar Ephemerella may not rely as heavily on algae as later instars. Also, certain taxa were able to use the heterotrophic microbial community, especially chironomids which increased in numbers when bacterial density increased; thus, the bacterial carbon source may be more important to some stream macroinvertebrates than previous studies have suggested.

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